Thursday, January 28, 2010

Florida town bracing itself for Hurricane Pete

Gah, this is kinda sad but it's too funny not to post. Please go here to see what folks who live in proximity to the Super Bowl might find in their mailboxes.

To anybody who gets one of those, I have one word: eBay.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Tapped Out: Franz is out of the Hold Steady

By now, any Hold Steady fan has already poured one out for Franz Nicolay, the keyboard pounding roustabout who recently took his leave of the band. This is a damn shame too, as his stage presence and harmonies were part of what made THS such a brilliant live act. And sure, maybe Stay Positive wasn't quite the masterpiece that Separation Sunday and Boys and Girls In America were, but that doesn't mean we'll miss him any less.

Paste caught up with Franz--you can read the interview here--and found out what life after THS holds for Mr. Nicolay. This excerpt is telling:
"There’s gonna be two levels of [learning to tapdance]; there’s the level of learning the steps, and there’s the level of actually being able to execute the steps with a 15-pound banjo hanging from my neck.”
Interesting. So Franz is pursuing this Vaudeville act, which if nothing else is a new take on retro. Let's hope it doesn't end like this:



Best of luck to Franz, and here's to hoping Craig, Tad and the rest of THS can soldier on without.*

*I'm aware that the band started sans-Nicolay...but it's hard to imagine them without him at this point, isn't it?

More musical lookalikes...

File today's installment of Musical Lookalikes under "From the right angle". Safe to say these two gentleman don't necessitate nametags when in the same room, but were you to claim they bare not even a passing resemblance, I'd deem thee a liar. Twins they aren't, but long-faced, strong-browed, curl-topped gingers they are: The Frames/Swell Seasons' Glen Hansard and timeless character actor John C. McGinley.


(With a black wig and some imagination, Kelso could be Johnny Cash)

McGinley's portrayal of the beloved bully Dr. Cox on Scrubs--a character whose badassery more than makes up for irritating duo of Elliott and Carla--is what he's most well-known for, but I'll take Bob Slydell and his celebration of Michael Bolton's entire catalogue any day:


Suspenders and short sleeves or GTFO! Anyway, I'm actually a lot more well-versed in McGinley's stuff than I am with Hansard's. But this does give me the opportunity to post one of my favorite Dylan covers, Hansard's version of "You Ain't Goin' Nowhere" from the I'm Not There soundtrack.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

New Poll: Band of the 2010s

I'd make the case that Radiohead was the band of the millennium's first decade. Four critically glorified albums, stadium tours, the works. While they ain't exactly "indie", I think that like Beck, The White Stripes, and a few others, they've gone mainstream and yet managed to maintain a high level of indie cred (currency about as valuable as used toilet paper, but something to strive for nonetheless.)

At any rate, they dominated the decade like few others. My Morning Jacket could be in the discussion: They've earned top billing for festivals and released steadily praised music with few missteps. Wilco too.

But for now, let's gaze into our crystal balls (hee): Who will be the biggest band of the oughts? Let your voice be heard, or email us if you think we missed a choice.

HSW Newsflash: National anthems on the way

God I bet I'm the only writer to engage in that kind of clever wordplay when covering this band! Anyway you've probably heard by now, but the venerable indie act The National will release an as-yet-unnamed LP in May. This news is welcome, as it's been a mind-boggling three years since Boxer was released. Probably no one remembers that it was my 4th favorite album of 2007. That album always reminds me of the job I worked in Columbia that summer, fresh out of college and sitting in an office on Main Street with a nice view of the business district. I had no iPod back then, so I loaded six or seven album into my work computer's iTunes (Boxer, Sky Blue Sky, Emotionalism, and Since by Richard Buckner are the ones that I remember specifically.) Anyway, that's my uninteresting story there. But "Start a War", "Green Gloves", and "Ada" are some of my favorite songs, and Alligator was awesome, so chances are we have another winner to look forward to.

A handful of tour dates accompany but of course nothing to speak of in the Carolinas. What does Paris have that Myrtle Beach doesn't?

Thursday, January 21, 2010

On the Albums of Uncle Tupelo, pt. 4: Conclusion

All that said, which one is best? My goal was not to reach a conclusion, but rather to examine the debate. Furthermore, who am I to say which one as best? I was barely out of diapers when the first album came out, and learning simple fractions when the band played it's last gig in 1994. I can give you my favorite (March 16-20, 1992 or Anodyne, depending on the day), but unlike my pandering year-end lists, I'd rather not categorize them by quality.

As always, I'm curious to hear the public opinion on the matter. HSW writer Drew is a Tupelo fiend (I have fond memories of jamming to "15 Keys" and "Slate" with Drew in college) and may have some valuable input on the subject. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the band, I implore you to at least check out the Anthology released in 2002. It's a fine catalog of many (but not nearly all) of Tupelo's essentials. If nothing else, it'll give you an idea of the band's general sound and it's progression over the course of their career.

I'll end with a small anecdote. A year or so ago, I found myself in a jam session with a good friend and a buddy of his named John. We got to talking music, of course, and I brought up Tupelo. Imagine my surprise when John told me they'd actually opened for him. In the late 80s, he had a marginally successful band and it so happened that, at a gig in Athens, they were to share a bill with the young trio from St. Louis. After Tupelo's set, John's band took the stage. Only problem was virtually everyone had followed Jeff, Jay, and Mike outside of the venue to get a word with this incredible group. I believe he said Michael Stipe had even showed up to catch them (Peter Buck, Stipe's guitarist in R.E.M., produced March 16-20, 1992.) John of course laughed about it, but I wonder what he must have thought when he saw the crowds pouring out the door? Indeed, the crowds would continue to follow Tupelo, up until the last song they ever played. Which, kinda hilariously, was this:



Thanks for reading, folks. Now go put on No Depression...

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

On the Albums of Uncle Tupelo, pt. 3: March 16-20, 1992 and Anodyne

March 16-20, 1992
August 3, 1992


Why It Might Be Tupelo's Best Album: The 'rock band goes acoustic' album smacks of marketing-centric gimmickry (exceptions, of course, are some select Unplugged performances, with which no one can argue.) But with the rise of grunge, and the logical public corralling of Tupelo into the grunge movement (abetted by their tepid relationship with their record label), the boys ducked the fad altogether and swam upstream: they made a folk record. Uncle Tupelo's decision to unplug for March 16-20, 1992 worked mainly because they didn't approach it as a rock record. It was a full manifestation of their folky nods in works past like "No Depression" and "Watch Me Fall". Aside from Dylanesque opener "Grindstone", we hear barren folk songs and traditional ballads. Farrar's (in my opinion) unmatched take on "Moonshiner" is one of the band's finest moments:



Farrar also delivers with reflective tunes like miner-ballad "Shaky Ground" and closer "Wipe the Clock". Jeff Tweedy continued to refine his songwriting style, contributing two brooding classics in "Black Eye" and "Fatal Wound". The instrumental "Sandusky" (which was featured in Jud Apatow's Knocked Up) is a breezy ramble with a great riff. The best thing I can say about the album is that it never feels like a gimmick. Well, almost never (see below.) You don't pine for the electric bashing of its predecessors. March 16-20, 1992 doesn't sound like a departure; it's every bit as representative of what Uncle Tupelo was as any of their albums.

Why It Might Not: The inclusion of "Coalminers" was a bit, I don't know, hokey? Jay sometimes insists on injecting straightforward history lessons in his music (see also "Sultana" from last Son Volt's American Dust). It's an interesting song, but a bit superfluous vis-a-vis the aforementioned "Shaky Ground", Farrar's original take on the hard life of a coal miner which is much more gracefully presented. Aside from that, there isn't much to complain about. Still, and virtually in contrast to what I wrote earlier, it's hard to think of Tupelo without the raging power chords and Heidorn's frantic drumwork. Within the context of their discography, March 16-20, 1992 was a brilliant conceptual decision, one that didn't suffer for its unique approach. But would deeming it Tupelo's best album be a proxy for judging their electric work? Surely that would be somewhat of a logical fallacy; I suppose I wish there was some sort of middle ground...

Anodyne
October 5, 1993


Why It Might Be Tupelo's Best Album: Not unlike Yankee Hotel Foxtrot some years later, Anodyne's legend is borne out of both the music and its backstory. At this stage, Farrar was ready to walk. There was a great deal of fluctuation in the band at this point: New label, new drummer, expanded roster. John Stirratt (who's still in Wilco) took on bass playing duties, allowing Tweedy a full-time move to guitar. Whatever the reason, the relationship between the two had fizzled. As I said, it's hard to imagine one band sustaining those two egos as long as it did. Soon after the release of Anodyne and the ensuing tour, the band was kaput. But as we learned with Fleetwood Mac's Rumours, tension often breeds inspired work, and such was the case with Anodyne.

Who knows what Farrar's lyrics are really about, but man do his two tracks that bookend the album sound squarely directed at Tweedy. A fiddle hums over a heavily strummed twelve-string in "Slate", with lyrics that suggest a relationship that's overstayed it's welcome:
"Worn out joke to keep the flies away,
carried it this far."
-"Slate"


And the chorus of "Steal the Crumbs" leaves little to the imagination of those trying to make the puzzle pieces fit:
"No more, no more will I see you,
no more will I see you."
-"Steal the Crumbs"
If Farrar was feeling protective of his role, he certainly made a greater case than ever for still being a songwriting force. Including from the aforementioned pair, his contributions are all four and five star efforts, most notably the vintage Tupelo rocker "Chickamauga" and the shuffling "Fifteen Keys". Tweedy's lyrics weren't so biting as Farrar's, although he did take a bite out of pop-punk and grunge rock with "We've Been Had." And "The Long Cut" could also be viewed through the lens of the state of Tupelo. But his more light-hearted tunes win the day. "New Madrid" is one of my personal favorites, a bounding acoustic diddy about an erroneous end-of-days theory, oddly enough. And "Acuff-Rose"--a knee-slapping fiddle fest that leads you to believe a ho-down could break out at any minute--is still played by Tweedy to this day.



The album is so emotionally rich, wrought with both sorrow and joy, and created by a band that literally had no notes left to play. The album's title is so fitting, too: An anodyne is essentially a painkiller, and metaphorically refers to words meant for healing purposes. The music on the album--more poignant and mature than anything they'd offered to date--might have afforded them both some sort closure, or at least enough to close the book on Uncle Tupelo.

Why It Might Not: Tweedy's only average contribution was "No Sense In Lovin'", which may or may not have had any involvement from Farrar (this is just speculation, but he sure doesn't seem to provide any backing vocals.) The song doesn't leap off the record like most others do, sounding more like a b-side from Wilco's A.M. than it does the penultimate track on a classic album. The only other chink in Anodyne's armor is its lack of Mike Heidorn's contributions. While the skins were more than ably supplied by future Wilco/Gourds drummer Ken Coomer, it strikes me that Tupelo at its purest was the trio of Farrar/Tweedy/Heidorn that rampaged through No Depression and Still Feel Gone. The same philosophical question arises as did with March 16-20, 1992: If the overall quality of music doesn't suffer, does it matter? To some degree it does. If either Tweedy or Farrar had left the band, it wouldn't be Tupelo (and it wasn't, since Wilco was essentially Anodyne-era Tupelo minus Farrar.) Mike Heidhorn brought his own style and attitude to the drum kit, as the drumwork on the first two albums was starkly different than the last two. Mirroring the point I made with March 16 as it relates to electric guitars: Is it fair to coronate Anodyne despite Heidorn's absence? It's a debate of whether his relevance outweighs the quality of music.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

On the Albums of Uncle Tupelo, pt. 2: No Depression and Still Feel Gone

No Depression
Released June 21, 1990


Why It might be Tupelo's best album: No Depression is characterized by unbridled attitude, which is evident right off the bat, with the opening riff to the bombastic "Graveyard Shift". The song's roaring power chords and Gatling-fire drumwork are the archetype for much of what we hear on the band's debut, specifically "Factory Belt", "Outdone", and "So Called Friend". This is the album is the shot heard round the world for the new wave alternative country, something the members of Uncle Tupelo modestly refuse. While it's true they weren't the first to interlace hard rock and roots rock, they certainly championed the genre's run in the 90s.




Why It Might Not: Jeff Tweedy is still finding his voice, as his lead vocal turns always seem a bit timid on songs like "Screen Door", "That Year", and "Train" (although I do love "Train"). The lyrics are at times over-saturated with an antagonistic view of middle-America that, valid or no, Tweedy and Farrar may have been more removed from than their lyrics indicate. The album is rough and raw, and might actually suffer from the restraint shown on the other three albums (especially the last two). Most groups would kill to write an album like No Depression, but it was a springboard for Tupelo, and they would only gain momentum until the end.

Still Feel Gone
Released September 17, 1991


Why It Might Be Tupelo's Best Album: If "Graveyard Shift" was the shot heard 'round the world for alt.country music, then "Gun" was the same thing for Jeff Tweedy. I wonder if it was a shock for fans to hear Tweedy's voice first, since at this point Farrar was still the surefire star of the show. But Farrar doesn't relent, and in fact provides what I might consider the best all-around song in the alternative country canon in "Still Be Around". Tweedy and Farrar's dynamic seemed at it's best on Still Feel Gone, the two men harmonizing smoothly, Mike Heidorn faithfully providing the beat all the while.



Why It Might Not: I consider this album front heavy, and maybe a couple of tracks longer than it needed to be. While Tweedy proved himself with "Gun", he also proved he wasn't quite there yet with "D. Boon", an ode to the late Minuteman frontman. Lines like "It's just me and Jay playin' our guitars along with it all" are a bit cringe-worthy. Farrar's stuff isn't bad, but I'd deem it slightly-above average. The lack of depth is offset by some of the strongest songs the band released, including "True to Life", the Son Voltish "Postcard", and of course the aforementioned winners above.

Monday, January 18, 2010

On the Albums of Uncle Tupelo, pt. 1: Introduction



Kicks: We all get on them. I guess I'd call it a swell of fervent interest in a particular band. You might find yourself poring over YouTube for their live videos, or they might look especially appealing on your iPod's list of artist. Who knows what it is -- but we've all been there. Just this past year I can recall going on seperate My Morning Jacket, Avett Brothers, and Andrew Bird kicks. These kicks can be instigated by a live show, as was the case with the latter two, but sometimes there's no singular big bang theory. They come and go like the weather.

Such is my current Uncle Tupelo kick. Its genesis was the random selection of No Depression as driving music from an as yet unorganized moving box. A few spins later, I found myself marching through their catalog, including the UT Anthology that came out several years back (essential listening by the way, as it's got some fantastic alternate takes that aren't even included as bonus tracks on the reissues.)

At any rate, it got me thinking: what's the essential Tupelo disc? In their short life as a band, they released four unarguably essential and influential albums. I can think of few other bands whose existence was so musically rich, who batted 1.000 over four albums. And although they weren't the first to play 'alt-country' music, they've become recognized as the grandfathers of the genre's heyday. Their success championed a movement that gave a voice to Alejandro Escovedo, Whiskeytown, and the Drive-By Truckers, not to mention the alt-rock titans that were borne out of the band itself.

I'm sure Jay Farrar, Jeff Tweedy and Mike Heidorn still scoff at such aggrandizing paragraphs as the above, but like it or not, they're the standard bearers of modern alt-country. That said, Tupelo, and indeed the genre have their detractors. They've been called inauthentic, creators of a romanticized view of middle America. To be fair, it's hard not to chuckle when you hear Tweedy singing "Down here, where we're at/Everybody is equally poor." From the lyric you'd think the band sat around in a shanty town, clothes tattered and bare feet dirty. From what I've read, theirs was a lower-middle class upbringing that wasn't inherently tumultuous. In Sex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs, Chuck Klosterman wrote (in a classic hipster move) that Nashville pop-country is a more pure genre because it deals with barbeques, F-150s, blind Patriotism and other tenets of yee-haw America.

I'll grant it's a fair point, but I guess my question is this: What's wrong with romanticizing things? Isn't it in the tradition of Johnny Cash and Bob Dylan, who sure as shit didn't do all the things they wrote about? Perhaps Uncle Tupelo songs seem too reflective and declaratory, too personal and resounding to strike listeners as legend. Still, this would seem a credit to the songwriters rather than a flaw, wouldn't it?

No matter the validity of their content, the band did what they did without fear and with an unmatched dynamic that, sadly, couldn't last. It's sort of staggering to think about today; that two of the biggest egos in Americana were in the same band. But those who've read about the situation knew that as Tweedy's songwriting improved and his involvement grew, a rift developed between he and Farrar. By the time Anodyne was written and released, tension was thicker than Frisco fog. The band only lasted eight more months.

Sadly, a reunion seems about as likely as me winning a dunk contest. I imagine the chasm between Farrar and Tweedy has only expanded, as the two have traded barbs over the years. Pride notwithstanding, I doubt either would be quick to drop what he's doing today. But as they say, we'll always have the music; four distinctly brilliant albums released over a span of only 50 months.

So which is the best? Most would argue that Anodyne was the glorious culmination of a band that couldn't contain its talent, but I think a case could be made for any of the four. Let's have a look at the full slate and see what's what. Over the next three days, you'll see three separate posts: A pro/con discussion of the first two albums, the same thing for the last two albums, and then we'll wrap it up with a conclusion on Thursday. Keep reading, and spin your Tupelo in preparation!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The Things You Can't Forget: Tom Waits and Five Points

He may be hit or miss, but Cameron Crowe sure has it good. The dude makes bank directing scenes that seem to be conceived in terms of his own record collection, netting soundtrack contributions/allowances from venerable acts such as My Morning Jacket, Jeff Buckley, and even the act once-thought uncompromisable, Led Zeppelin. Say what you will about the quality of his films, but he usually delivers when it comes to tying songs into scenes. Of course this is best displayed in Almost Famous, wherein he makes unforgettable use of the likes of "Tiny Dancer" and "The Rain Song".

If nothing else, it proves that songs can be effective in reinforcing emotion, or even serve as the catalyst for creating a moment in the first place (re: the "Tiny Dancer" scene.) The right song at the right time can make both physical and emotional elements that much more vivid.

In this new feature I've dubbed "The Things You Can't Forget" (part of a brilliant lyric by the subject of our first account) I want to chronicle especially vivid memories that could have been culled from the silver screen. My parameters are loose, only that a particular memory was made indelible by the music that was playing at the time it occurred. My first entry is mined from my derelict Myspace blog, last updated sometime in 2007. I've refined and adapted it a bit, but the story remains the same. Without further ado!

***

It was a weekday in spring of 2006 and I was awake at 5:30. And for the life of me, I couldn't get back to sleep. Uninterrupted slumber hadn't been an issue lately; in fact, it'd been more luxurious than usual because of my brand new bed. For the past two years I'd been sleeping, in the tradition of true collegiate resourcefulness, on a futon. At the behest of an ex-girlfriend who insisted I upgraded to a bed for my own spinal health and for that of future conquests (heh-heh-heh), I found a nice full-bed on Craigslist for a small sum. So because of the upgrade, I'd been sleeping like the dead; heavy, mouth-breathing slumber with vivid dreams from the moment I found my pillow to the second my alarm zinged to life. But this night, I couldn't sleep. Especially odd considering it was raining, a factor I'd assumed would only intensify my overnight coma.

Despite the hour, I find it difficult to fade back asleep once I've been up for a while. So I flicked on my bedside lamp and struggled to my feet. I stood for a while in the middle of my room, clad it naught but boxer-briefs, locked in a dazed stupor. Eventually my gears started spinning. I turned on my computer (at that time it was an aging Dell Laptop that took ages to boot) and while it fired up I boiled some water for tea. I was raised on the stuff, and although I might have to cash in a man card for admitting it, I can't start my day without a steaming mugful. I toasted and gobbled an English Muffin while my tea steeped. I then brought my mug into my room and checked my e-mail, my news websites, etc. It was still raining; I could see it fall in front of the orange street lamp through my window.

After the last slug of Earl Grey, I found some gym shorts and a T-shirt and laced up my running shoes. My bedside clock read "6:15" in cold, tall digital numbers. My plan was to meet Thomas at the gym at 7:30, but I decided I'd leave early and do my cardio before weights for a change. So I swiped the keys off the edge of the octopus tank stand (my roommate had an octopus) and stepped outside. It was chilly, maybe high 60s, and still a light rain. I hopped in my car and fired up my CD player, which at that time was a Sony Discman fed through my Jeep's tape-player.

The CD was Nighthawks at the Diner by Tom Waits. I'd just bought it a few days before, and hadn't even listened to it a full time through. At this point I was still in my immersion process with Tom. It'd be a few years til I discovered the likes of Mule Variations and Bone Machine, but I was well-versed the early stuff.

I drove through the darkness, the street lamps and traffic lights floating in the early morning dark. I noticed the song playing was a spoken word story of sorts called "Big Joe and Phantom 309", written by Tommy Faile. It's about a hitch-hiker getting a ride from a truck driver, the hitcher only later finding out that the driver was a ghost. He recites the words over a lightly plucked acoustic, a three-chord repetition that nicely complements the sad but sweet story.

I decided to cut through Five Points, an area of Columbia famous for its abundance of bars, shops, and panhandlers. At the time I was largely repelled by the warea. It'd been under construction for years, and was generally a chaotic swirl of gridlock, filth, and douchebags. But as I rolled through it in the early morning darkness, with supply trucks parked in front of the bars, and the lights all green and orange, hazy in the misty rain, and my windshield wipers skidding through my eyes, all in the peaceful abandon that can only be found in the hours after last call and before first light, while Tom Waits spoke in his calming yet animated baritone, I saw Five Points in a way I'd never seen it. Just a quiet corner of a classic Southern town, not unwelcoming or trashy or vile. I suppose that morning, to the breathy rush of tires rolling through rain and the smoky charm of Tom's voice, I made peace with the area in some small way.

At the gym I did 40 minutes of cardio, watching through the high windows as the western hills appeared in purple sky and the sun rose somewhere in the east. I also stepped up on the bench, and enjoyed one of my most satisfying workouts in ages. I drove back home the same route, but it wasn't quite so enjoyable. Traffic was stirring. Construction workers were crossing the street without regard for drivers, and my CD started skipping because of the torn pavement. But it didn't sour that early morning drive. And neither has the fact that the album is one of my least called upon Waits discs. There's a lot that makes it a special album, but the least of it is the songs.

Still, "Big Joe and Phantom 309" is undoubtedly a timeless recording, and I'll think of that morning in Five Points any time I hear it.

***

If you haven't had the pleasure of hearing Tom's famously captured performance of the song, I'd suggest you check it out on Grooveshark.com.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Whathaveyou


  • New albums upcoming this year from the Drive-By Truckers, Arcade Fire (both confirmed), Vampire Weekend, Spoon (both in my iPod already), The Fleet Foxes, The National, Band of Horses (all announced but release dates are uncomfirmed), Radiohead (who knows), She and Him (who cares), and The Who (who who, who who).
  • Regarding the new Spoon and VW: See this post for a super-harduh and brief review of Contra. I've made it through Transference once and, man, this band sure does deliver. Long-time readers will remember a piece I did almost 1 year ago on the topic of bands who've established a sonic trademark and remain faithful to it while still churning out the goods. Spoon reinforces their spot on that list with their newest slate of funky 4/4 indie rock.
  • Another upcoming release I'm impatiently anticipating is that from Toro Y Moi, fellow Gamecock and chillwave noisemaker from Columbia who's been causing some national buzz. I caught him performing a few songs in Charleston in November and I was mightily impressed.
  • Concerts upcoming: None untiltwo big ones, looming like cargo ships the horizon. Indeed, back-to-back nights with Wilco await in March. It'll mark my seventh and eighth Wilco experiences, and first in the state of Georgia. While my seats aren't quite as bitchin' as the last time I saw 'em, I'm confident that the band will still make with the awesome.
  • In what none might consider our first piece of nationally recognized press, my letter to the editor appeared in the January issue of Paste Magazine. I made the argument for the retroactive inclusion of my oft-touted favorite album, Sun Kil Moon's Ghosts of the Great Highway. Will post the actual text sometime this month.
  • The last record I bought in 2009 is Dan Auerbach's Keep it Hid. It's pretty good, although I must confess his vocals always are always muddled beneath layers of reverb and gutted of the low-end. I also take issue with the album title. It's an irrational dislike, but I don't like album titles that are brief directives like that. Something about it seems kinda played out. Obviously I'd excuse Let It Be since the song and the album's legend have qualified it, but by and large it's a pet peeve. Examples include Band of Horses' Cease to Begin and Langhorne Slim's Be Set Free, which is a pretty crappy album even without the title.

Friday, January 8, 2010

The Nyoo Vampire Weekend is Ruhlly Different



Ezra Koenig: Our nyoo record is finally about to be released.

Chris Tomsin: I kneeow! It's soooo exciting. How do you think people will like the auto-tyooon?

EK: If they're not ready for it, like, that's their problem. This is the nyoo VW. We kyant just run in place!

CT: You got that right. Some of our drum fills are super-harduh! If only people knew.

EK: Well, I sure have a clue about it.

CT: Ruhlly?

EK: Oh yeah. Big time.


*Frame of reference.
-----------------------

Anyway, I did just finish my first through-listen, and it's really not night and day different. But still, it's distinct from the first as it doesn't have that surface-level charm that overflows from every song. Yet there's something curious about Contra that warrants further exploration. I guess I'd define it as far less accessible, which can't be defined as a good thing or bad thing, really. This might be in an effort to scrape away the rosey-cheeked sheen of songs like "Oxford Comma" and "A-Punk" an establish themselves as something more than indie teenbeat. Sadly, the paradigm might shift right with them, with leagues of Urban Outfitted 19 year olds parading behind. I'll be interested to see how this one settles in, not to mention how it's critically received. Paste already gave it a shining review, but since Ezra Koenig was on the cover it might have been rated with a degree of self-awareness. They'd look kinda silly undermining themselves like that, right?

Anyway, will the tinkly keys, flecks of auto tune, and complex rhythmic/melodic interplay bode well for a young group with heaps of promise despite it's stupid moniker? Time will tell.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Poll Results 5: Album of the Year

Sure, you could only choose from seven. But, let's face it, if you couldn't find one of them to hang your hat on, chances are you shouldn't be reading this blog anyway. On to the results:

2 (9%) - Animal Collective - Merriweather Post Pavilion
5 (22%) - Grizzly Bear - Veckatimest
5 (22%) - Monsters of Folks - s/t
1 (4%) - The Decemberists - Hazards of Love
6 (27%) - The Avett Brothers - I & Love & You
1 (4%) - Felice Brothers - Yonder is the Clock
2 (9%) - Yo La Tengo - Popular Songs

Despite this blog's rather cold reception of the album, the Avett's major label debut gets the reader vote. I'm happy to see everyone represented, although it was really a three-horse race. Congrats to the Avett Brothers for taking it home this year.

Look for a new poll soon!

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Journal of a Presale Ticket Buyer

These are actual entries taken from the journal of a live music patron, shortly before and after buying tickets through an online presale.



8:43 AM - My bones thaw from the wretched winter chill that's imposed itself upon town in the past days. Behind scarf and wintercoat, I soldiered through an assault of nipping breezes to reach, with great relief, my place of work and the warmth therein. I'll repair to the break area for steaming black coffee in due time; yet first, I must engage my browsing interface for the ascertainment of fresh electronic post.

8:46 AM - To my great surprise, I've learnt the band Wilco--troubadours six from Chicagotowne of Illinois--shall present their balladry, in full concert, as the first spring flowers reach bloom in March. Admittance, however, shall come at the purchase of tickets, available uniquely through a single electronic protocol. At ten bells, a slate of performance allowances shall be portioned to those willing to commit to a predetermined timespan, should they agree to partake in a standard transaction. This 'presale', so-called, allows those with untempered interest in the event to capitalize on their own appreciation of the fine minstrels. I must reach my beloved, for it is with little doubt I speculate on her desire for a place of witness adjacent to my own.

8:53 AM - With little effort I reached my beloved, and she served to confirm my suspicions. But not without the readjustment of my perceived actions here out, as she additionally requested her sister a reservation at the performance. This greets me unsoundly, as the capacity of our party shall only increase the likelihood of our potential for amounting distance from stagefront. Alas, it must be, and I choose to welcome her presence rather than lament it, as the Fabulous Fox Theatre in the towne Atlanta of Georgia yields not a one poor exposure to stage theatrics. I confirm this, although I did witness the hermit Tom Waits at the exact venue nearly two years past. I was five souls removed from the well-trodden planks of the Fox's stage, and it was a most glorious observation of the bizarre talent laid before me.

9:00 AM - A single hour divides the presenttime and my attainment of, let us all pray, eventual proximity to the fine performers' stageshow. My mind does inquire with wonder: With what piece shall they regale us at the onset? The mournful dirge "Ashes of American Flags"? The spirited whimsy of "Outtasite (Outtamind)"? The self-serving irony of "Wilco (The Song)"? My imagination knows no rein or fence, nor will it prior to the initial note struck by the skilled hand of Nels of the family Cline.

9:23 AM - I write with quivering hand; not from cold or fear at present, but rather the lingering decline of anxiety following a notion that occurred to me: Was the presale merchantry borne out of the Ten oclock hour, or was it the ninth toll? Some faint recurrence of the hour Nine brought on a mist of doubt that instigated an irrational scramble for confirming the hour of official introduction of sale to the masses. Greatly relieved was I to discover the unfounded root of my fear: Indeed, Nine was the hour, but only in the native timezone of Wilco proper, which is properly translated to a firm Ten O'clock initiation for those who reside in the former colonies. A crisis gladly averted, as surely I'd be doomed to the recesses of the concerthall had I been so unabashedly truant.

9:50 AM - Oh, it's no good to busy myself with toil at this stage. The hourglass has all but emptied its grains fully southward, and I'm overcome with a palpable sense of eagerness. My heart raps impatiently, akin to the toe of an anxious housewife awaiting her tardy spouse. I examine the entirety of the interface through which I must maneuver shortly. Ah, in due time the crimson type reading "PRESALE STARTS AT 9AM CST" shall, through some digital wizardry, transmogrify to an inviting conduit link. At that very second I shall leap forth and secure for my companions and I what I imagine to be a trio of lush chairspots, affording an unparalleled and staggering vista of Wilco's finely-vintaged showmanship.

9:59 AM - I stand at the precipice of glory. This shall be my final entry preceeding the events anticipated in the half-dozen prior. To all: I shall greet thee at the heel of the beast.

(blank space)

10:02 AM - Goddamnit!! Row R? Fucking balls dude I jump the presale as soon as the thing starts, and the best I get is Row motherfucking R!? Not to mention it's on the end of the row. Great...I'll have to deal with assholes sliding past me every two seconds. What kind of fucking horsecock presale is this, anyway? Did I miss the fine print where it said "GOOD SEATS ONLY AVAILABLE DURING REGULAR SALE". Cause I don't think I did. Ass, ass, ass. 117 bucks for three row-end, just-ok seats. Guess I'll hop on the regular sale Saturday and see what if I can get, then resell these. Which is a massive pain in the ass, but now it's a matter of principle.

Fuck a presale.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

The Tube Amp: December/January (and happy new year!)

Howdy! Happy Twentyten to all. I hope you enjoyed a nice holiday stretch. I for one spent the final week of the decade boxing up my apartment and hauling everything down the street to my new place. It's nice, although the heating system is all jacked up, so it's at present virtually uninhabitable. Thankfully I've no shortage of crashpads while the problem is righted (should be today), but damned if I don't feel like a bit of a nomad right now.

Anyhoo, a byproduct of my inability to set up shop in the new digs is the lack of music playing, listening, and writing I've been able to partake in the past week or so. A holiday is not uncommon for most enterprises--I returned to my dayjob after a week with just six new emails, only one of any significance--so I'd like to think our lack of output is excusable.

What's inexcusable is the lack of a Tube Amp feature last month. What with the outflux of posting, I managed to overlook one of my favorite pieces. Consider it a hiatus, and consider this the end of it. The first Tube Amp of 2010 showcases one of my favorite artists playing a song by another one of my favorite: Band of Horses covering Gram Parsons' "A Song For You". While I didn't witness this particular performance which was in Charlotte, I got to see them playing Parsons' classic tune in Charleston recently. It was my fifth Band of Horses show, and fourth at the Music Farm. The first was as an opener for Iron and Wine in 2005. At that time, the band featured a few different faces, and Ben Bridwell was a repressed shell of the charismatic frontman he is today.



:04 - "How are you guys doing anyway?" I noticed at the recent Charleston show that Ben has a real eye-level rapport with the crowd. There isn't any overwhleming grandiosity from the stage. I get the feeling Ben and the rest of the band are very appreciative of their situation. After a show in 2007, I saw Ben Bridwell walking hurriedly towards me, in an attempt to get to the tour bus (oddly parked out front) before the masses could swarm him. In a fanboy moment, I stuck out a paw and said, "Ben, thanks for playing tonight." He slowed a bit, gave me a hearty handshake, and in a very sincere way said, "No no, thank you," as if he was really trying to convince me that I, the devoted fan, was the more important part of the equation.

:19 - You know it's a good crowd when you get some cheers for "This is a Gram Parsons song." I couldn't spot anyone else in the Charleston crowd who was equally as excited as I was.

:27 - "...is like a wild GYOOOSE..."

:41 - One of the clear enhancements to the band in recent years has been the addition of keyboardist Ryan Monroe, whose harmonies do a nice job of replacing those of departed Horse Matt Brooke.

59: - "Take me down to your dancefloor/I won't mind the people when they stare." As a bi-leftfooted fellow, this is one of my alltime favorite lyrics.

1:10 - This little riff, wherein the drums hits the off beat with the guitar's upstrum, is executed a tad hokily. In fact, I might slow the whole song down a few BPMs. Gram's version is quite a bit slower, as is Whiskeytown's.

1:43 - Ben's ability to snappy notes works quite well on this song, since the vocal melody jumps around the scale so freely.

2:17 - Observation: Bridwell is a hat man. I think the first time I saw the band is the only time he wasn't sporting a hat of some sort. He's taken to a rather impressive Stetson these days, but, as you see here, it's not rare to see him rockin a standard bro-lid.

2:23 - Call me crazy, but I'm not sure this guy's in the band any more. At least I don't remember him from the show last week.

2:36 - "Tyler Ramsey!" Ben's shredtroduction gives way to Ramsey's low-intensity guitar style. I haven't listened to his solo stuff, but Stereogum describes his style as a mix between Ryan Adams and The Red House Painters. Gimme gimme gimme. However, I think he needs to explore the guitar a bit on his soloing...I don't think he ever gets above the fourth fret.

3:00 - By the by, this is the first Tube Amp video filmed by a fan, in one steady shot. Not for those people who have a short attention span.

3:28 - Down in front, fuckers!

3:45 - Beautiful stage-lighting...especially that luminecent, red exit sign off to the left.

4:20 - "And tomorrow, we may still be there." May you always be there, Band of Horses...the little band that's doing the suburban Neverland known as Mt. Pleasant, SC proud.

As a bonus, here is Gram's original version with a small verbal introduction by the late, great legend:



And, the knockout version Whiskeytown did on Sessions At West 54th. Worthy of it's own Tube Amp appearance, please note Ryan's frosty hair, Caitlin Cary's farmgirl attire, and James Iha's...well, James Iha:



And cause why not, Lucinda Williams and her unique howl:



Which one is your favorite? Hard to beat Gram's original, in my opinion. His vocal effort on the track is pretty damned timeless. Until next month!